SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—It is unlikely that Santa Cruz County will move from the purple “widespread” tier to the less restrictive red “substantial” tier when the state updates its tier assignments Tuesday, according to county spokesman Jason Hoppin.
That means several indoor business operations will continue to be closed for at least another week. That includes indoor dining, aquariums, museums, dance studios, gyms and movie theaters, all of which have been shuttered by state restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Santa Cruz County inched closer to the red tier last week, as its 7-day positivity rate (2.9 percent) and case rate (8.6 per day per 100,000 residents) both continued to fall since record highs in early January put the small county among the worst in the state. Although its positivity rate was well below the percentage required to move to the red tier (8 percent), its case rate failed to fall under the mark needed to loosen restrictions (7 per 100,000).
“We’re hoping to meet all the criteria tomorrow, but we’re going to have to be there for two weeks,” Hoppin said.
County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said during a Feb. 25 press conference that the county could move to the red tier—the second most restrictive tier of the four—this week, but that it was more likely that the move would come next week or the week after.
The state requires a county to have a qualifying positivity rate and case rate for two weeks before moving down a tier. But some counties, such as neighboring San Mateo, last week leapfrogged that rule because their so-called health equity quartile positivity rate had dropped significantly, and was below 4.9 percent—or the rate needed to move into the orange “moderate” tier—for two weeks.
The health equity number, according to the state, bottlenecks the overall positivity rate data to tests and results coming from census tracts that have “low health conditions” as determined by the state’s Healthy Places Index (HPI).
Santa Cruz County’s health equity positivity rate was 6.3 percent last week, as Watsonville, a primarily Latinx community with three census tracts that are in the bottom fourth of the HPI range, continues to see a number of cases arise even as the county’s overall positivity rate has fallen.
A move to the red tier would also mean that middle and high schools could start to welcome students back to the classroom. Schools in counties that have met the criteria for school reopening have a three-week period to open, even if the county stops meeting the criterion during that window.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School District has already said it will not bring back students until after spring break vacation.
In Santa Cruz County, 183 people have died from Covid-19. There have been 14,671 known Covid-19 cases in Santa Cruz County, of which 386 are known active cases, according to information last updated Sunday evening by county health officials.